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03 Oct 2004 09:42
Multi-millionaire game farmer John Hume speaks lovingly of his “insecure” and “over-sensitive” black rhinos, and yet he is fiercely lobbying to lift a ban on hunting the endangered species.
The Zimbabwe-born game farmer stands firmly behind the South African government as it goes before a world body regulating trade in endangered animals this week to ask for 10 hunting licences for adult bulls.
Paradoxically, Hume believes trade in rhino products is the only way to save one of his favourite animals from extinction.
“It’s so logical. Give something a commercial value and it will increase in number.
A farmer will guard his animals with his life if it is commercially viable,” Hume says from his stunning 7 000-hectare game farm outside the northeastern town of Malelane, next to Kruger National Park.
South Africa will ask the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) at a meeting in Bangkok this week to be granted an annual hunting quota of 10 black rhinos.
There are about 3 600 wild black rhinos in the world and South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia—which will ask for permission to hunt five rhinos per year at Cites—are home to most of them.
“We need the hunting quotas for farms that have a problem with too many rhino bulls that kill each other,” said Thea Carroll of the environment ministry.
“This doesn’t mean we will necessarily use all 10 permits in one year.
South Africa has won acclaim for boosting its black rhino population from 110 in the 1930s to nearly 1 300 last December.
But the South African director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), Jason Bell, says re-starting the rhino hunt will be an open invitation to poachers.
“It sends out a dangerous message to consumers, traders and poachers that rhino horns are back in trade.”
Hume started a breeding programme for black rhinos on his well-maintained bushveld farm in 1996—but he has since lost three of his black rhinos.
A “cantankerous and very territorial” infertile bull named “Number 65” is taking the rap for killing two males and one female.
Hume would rather that a hunter pay between $80 000 (64 500 euros) and $100 000 to shoot “Number 65”, who is a nuisance and who cannot breed, and use the funds in one of his “many other conservation projects that are screaming for money”.
“If you have a black rhino that is old and that is going to die anyway, why not let it be hunted,” says Andre van Dyk, communications manager at the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association. “The farmer can plough that money back into conservation.”
Apart from his black rhino project, Hume breeds disease-free buffaloes and is developing a vaccine for Roan Antelope to fight a life-threatening disease caused by ticks.
He does not hunt himself and his employees do not carry rifles while patrolling the farm. Their most dangerous weapon is a knobkierie (round-headed stick) which they hit against tree branches to scare off rhinos if necessary.
“As I got to know them, I’ve realised these black rhinos are more insecure, more sensitive, and more nervous than the white rhinos. That’s why they are more aggressive. They are very funny creatures,” Hume explains while scanning the bushes for the shy animals.
“I would really like to breed them up a bit,” he adds with a sigh. - Sapa-AFP
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